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Tenor Guitar Vs Tenor Ukulele: How These Instruments Differ [2021 Guide]

If you’re curious about the tenor guitar vs tenor ukulele, this is the post for you!

(And be sure to check out my article about the tenor guitar vs baritone ukulele if you want to learn more about that specific comparison!)

I don’t own a tenor guitar, but I down own a ukulele.

And as I was researching topics to write about for my blog, I came across this idea and thought it would be worth discussing.

So how do these instruments differ and how are they similar?

Read the following sections to find out!

Tenor Guitar Vs Tenor Ukulele: What Is a Tenor Guitar?

A tenor guitar is an instrument derived from a conventional acoustic steel-string guitar. It’s not exactly clear when the instrument’s invention happened. However, it’s highly likely that proper tenor guitars came to be sometime in the late 1920s.

The main trait of a tenor guitar is that it has only four strings instead of six. In most cases, the body is almost identical in shape to that of a regular guitar. On the other hand, you can also find other shapes. Sometimes it’s round and resembles a banjo.

The instrument’s scale length is much shorter than usual. It’s usually between 21 and 23 inches. Meanwhile, regular guitars sit anywhere between 24 and 25.5 inches. To those not familiar with it, a scale length is a distance between the nut and the bridge.

With a shorter scale length, it’s obvious that the instrument will be higher in pitch. However, there are also some tenor guitars with a 25-inch scale length. They’re far less common. But they implement different string gauges to keep their tunings higher.

Electric solid-body tenor guitars also exist, although they’re rare. It’s an old concept from the 1950s. However, Fender has their Tenor Telecaster as part of their Alternate Reality series. 

Tuning

The tuning on a tenor guitar is significantly higher compared to a regular guitar. There isn’t a “standard” tuning, although many tune it to C3-G3-D4-A4. For the sake of comparison, C3 is the same note as the 3rd fret of the 5th string on a regular guitar.

But there are a few other tunings in use. For instance, some use D3−G3−B3−E4 which is the same as a standard guitar’s first four strings. It’s also the same tuning as a baritone ukulele.

Either way, a tenor guitar is more open for experimentation in terms of tuning. It’s not uncommon to see “open” tunings. These are common among slide tenor guitar players.

What Does It Sound Like?

A tenor guitar features steel strings, a compact body, and a shorter scale length. You can definitely notice similarities with a conventional acoustic guitar. However, given its traits, it’s much brighter and “thinner” sounding. It’s also quieter compared to a regular guitar.

We could say that it sits somewhere between a guitar and a banjo. Its sound also gravitates towards the mandolin, although it doesn’t have string courses.

As far as the electric solid-body tenor guitar goes, it’s almost the same as any other electric guitar except of course for its string number and tuning.

Tenor Guitar Vs Tenor Ukulele: What Is a Ukulele?

A ukulele is an instrument derived from a classical guitar. It was defined in the 1880s. This was after Portuguese immigrants introduced guitar-like instruments to the Hawaiian population. Not long after it, the new version of these instruments was defined as “ukulele.” The name translates to “jumping flea.”

The biggest promoter of the instrument was King Kalākaua, giving it a traditional status. In the 1960s, the instrument found its resurgence. It happened once again in the late 1990s.

You can learn more about the history of this instrument and its close relative, the guitalele, in my article linked before.

This is a four-string nylon-string instrument that resembles a small guitar. It’s been favored for its simplicity and accessibility. The instrument has also found application in several different genres. It’s also a frequent choice among absolute beginners and enthusiasts alike.

Most commonly, it’s a wooden instrument, with a scale length ranging from 11 and up to 21 inches. The smallest ones have 10 frets, while the maximum fret count goes up to 21.

Ukulele Types

Although a simple instrument, there are actually plenty of different ukulele types. Nonetheless, all of them feature four strings. These are the main types:

  • Pocket ukulele
  • Soprano ukulele
  • Concert ukulele
  • Tenor ukulele
  • Baritone ukulele
  • Bass ukulele

Each of them differs in scale length, fret number, and recommended tunings. The most widespread type is the soprano ukulele. It’s the one that you find most commonly in music stores. The other types are used sporadically but have their purpose when needed.

Other types also include contrabass, banjo, and even electric ukuleles. Out of all of these types, the baritone ukulele is the closest one to the tenor guitar.

However, the bass ukulele has the same tuning as a regular bass guitar. On the other hand, it has only 16 frets and a scale length of 21 inches. Its tone is also much softer compared to a regular acoustic bass guitar thanks to its smaller size and nylon strings.

The pocket ukulele is pretty interesting as well. It’s the smallest and highest-pitched one in this category. Its scale length is only 11 inches and it has from 10 to 12 frets. The most common tuning is D5-G4-B4-E5.

Tuning

As far as the standard soprano ukulele goes, the most common tuning is G3-C4-E4-A4. It’s also not uncommon to see the G4-C4-E4-A4 tuning. Both of these tunings technically build a C6 chord.

Every other ukulele type has its common tunings. The tenor ukulele, for instance, has the same tunings for the most part. The baritone ukulele is often tuned to D3-G3-B3-E4, which is the same as the first four guitar strings.

What Does It Sound Like?

Although guitar-like, ukuleles have a bit of a different sound. They all feature nylon strings. Therefore, the tone gets slightly closer to a classical guitar. It’s much softer compared to a steel-string one.

Of course, it varies depending on the type. But the standard soprano ukulele is softer in its output, with a slight accent to higher-ends. This is what you get with nylon strings and a small body.

Tenor Guitar vs. Ukulele: How Do They Compare?

Both of these instruments are, in one way or another, derived in part from the guitar. But although the body shape and number of strings are almost the same, there are some differences. Ukuleles of all kinds use nylon strings. Meanwhile, tenor guitars are steel-stringed instruments.

This makes them different both in tone and their use in different genres. Jazz, folk, and blues are the most common genres for the tenor guitar. Meanwhile, the ukulele gets attention in a variety of genres. But its softer tone makes it great for individual performers. Especially those who play songs in pop arrangements.

The closest they get is if we compare a baritone ukulele to a tenor guitar. Both of them can have the same tuning and cover the same notes. However, their tones and output volumes are still different. Given these differences, they also have different uses.

Other than that, if you already play a stringed fretted instrument, you have the physical skills to play either of these instruments.

However, you will likely be more comfortable on the tenor guitar if you already play the banjo since they both have steel strings and can share the same tuning. And you will likely feel more comfortable on the tenor uke if you are coming from a nylon-string instrument like the classical guitar.

Conclusion

I hope this post has clarified the difference between a tenor guitar and tenor ukulele!

Let me know in the comments if you have further questions!

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